Sir Isaac Newton Free School will aim to make Norfolk a beacon for science and maths teaching

PUBLISHED: 06:30 24 January 2012 | UPDATED: 12:28 24 January 2012

David Prior, NNUH chairman, is aiming to set up a Free School with Ormiston Victory Academy principal Rachel de Souza

David Prior, NNUH chairman, is aiming to set up a Free School with Ormiston Victory Academy principal Rachel de Souza

Proposals for a new Free School which would aim to arm Norfolk’s world-class science and engineering industries with their pick of world class-employees were announced last night.

Plans for the Sir Isaac Newton Free School, a sixth form specialising in maths and science, were revealed by Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital chairman David Prior and Ormiston Victory Academy principal Rachel de Souza.

The pair hope to work together to create the Norwich-based school which they said could become “a beacon for maths and science teaching” across the country.

Announcing the plans last night, Mr Prior said: “I think it will raise the game of all the schools in Norfolk who are, frankly, way off the pace at the moment. We need a bomb to go off in maths and science teaching. I want to be part of that bomb.”

An application to the department for education (DfE) is set to be submitted next month with Mr Prior planning to take on the title of chairman while Mrs de Souza would have a executive director-style role.

Both would continue their existing roles at the NNUH and Ormiston Victory.

The school, which could open in September 2013, would cater for at least 100 students aged 16 to 19 years old from across Norfolk and north Suffolk.

The curriculum would focus strongly on science and maths – with students needing to get A*s, As and Bs at GCSE in their chosen disciplines to gain a place – with other subjects also available.

Mrs de Souza said: “This school is for serious-minded academic students who want to go to a good university. We will aim for A and A* A-levels and we will develop close links with Oxbridge and the best universities in Britain.”

The pair behind the Free School believe there is a “black hole” in maths and science education in Norfolk and across the country, with low participation levels and low attainment, they said.

In 2010, it was revealed the UK had fallen to 28th place in maths and 16th in science in the world education rankings by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which compares 65 countries.

But, with the ever-growing reputation of places like the Hethel Engineering Centre and the Norwich Research Park, which is set to use government funding to create a next-generation science park, now more than ever the county needs a stream of top-class science scholars.

Mr Prior said: “We have this chance of developing something very special – but we have to have the people. If we haven’t got the trained, technical people, none of this business will be a success.

“That’s why this sixth form could be really exciting.

“We have the makings of a science and technical community which could be a bit like Cambridge.”

If the application is approved, its backers will begin their search for a “top flight” principal who would be expected to teach as well as lead the school.

Mr Prior said his team would also look to recruit “the best teachers” and the school would develop its own teacher-training programme, which he hoped other schools would make use of.

Links are already being made with a host of local companies and organisations in the county’s science and engineering community – with the N&N at the top of the list.

Its chairman said: “The hospital will be working very closely to provide work experience and mentoring. I’m hoping some of the lectures provided at the medical school can be made available for some of the students interested in medicine later on.”

Mrs de Souza admitted the Free School would be in competition with other Norfolk sixth forms, including her own at Ormiston Victory Academy.

But she said she hoped schools would choose to work with it, sharing resources and expertise.

A site for the school has not yet been found although talks are ongoing over two Norwich locations, which would aim to make transport links as easy as possible.

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